Alex Dodl, our Design Consultant, shares her thoughts.
It’s that time of the month, Aunt Flo, strawberry week, code red, the blob… you mean your period? Simply starting the conversation helps break taboo and encourages innovation.
I would be lying if I said I have never been ashamed to talk about my period, but after becoming massively invested in the topic with my final year university project, I became more and more aware about the fact that I hadn’t spoken about it. I quickly learnt that the simple action of not speaking about topics such as periods are ultimately creating spaces of stigma and taboo, and therefore continue to be a struggle for so many.
Firstly, I want to acknowledge the movement that is happening around periods, from protests on the tampon tax and a fight to end period poverty, to the first advert in 2017 to finally display that we don’t, in fact, bleed blue like it’s some sort of washing up detergent – shock. Not only this, but there is an exciting increase in innovation (that’s been well overdue) in this space which is allowing us to rethink the way in which we take control of our period. From new product developments that range from Thinx period pants, to DAME’s reusable tampon applicator, or BeYou providing alternatives to pharmaceutical pain relief. Even companies like B-Corp Callaly making traditional period care more convenient with a subscription service, or the likes of Daye and Flo providing heaps of regularly updated support and advice, empowering menstruators to take charge and understand exactly what’s going on! However, we still have a way to go. Until its completely acceptable to talk openly about our periods, we’re missing out on true insights from real people, which would unlock unique opportunities to innovate, that might currently be being missed.
Despite affecting almost half of the world’s population, periods remain a topic to be kept private. This baffles me when you consider that the average person has their period 3-7 days a month across ~40 years, meaning around 9 years of their lifetime are spent having a period. However, currently that’s 9 years spent in private, hiding the fact that we have a period all together, and that’s just bleeding, let alone the menstrual cycle as a whole which makes up the entirety of those 40 years. The thing is it’s not just the physical act of bleeding, but in fact it’s everything from your energy, mood, or even digestion that we have to deal with as the body transitions through each stage of the cycle. The menstrual cycle is screaming for innovation that targets everything from period poo to insomnia, and even the struggles experienced by those on contraceptives. It’s clear that it’s not niche, but in fact a huge topic that remains holistically and relatively unexplored.
Periods are biologically complex, and therefore not talking about them is damaging our health. Changes in the menstrual cycle can be a signal of a deeper health issue, so by stigmatising the conversation around periods we are creating an environment where people do not seek support, whether that is with a healthcare professional, an app, or just your mum or dad. It should be normal to have an open conversation about our period with anyone and everyone. If we’re comfortable having a conversation about health and well-being, then that should include periods, no matter who we’re having that conversation with. However, the reality that currently exists is that over two thirds of menstruators do not even feel comfortable discussing their period with their father.
Personally, I find periods fascinating and a way of learning about our bodies. Whether they’re late, there’s an anomaly or we skip a period all together, they’re all-natural signs that something’s not quite right – a bit like a personal health-bot telling us to talk to someone about it. Yet periods remain one of the many experiences that are misunderstood or even disregarded by countless who don’t have one at all. Why is it that we have become so content with something experienced by ~50% of the world’s population for half of their lifetime when it’s clearly far from being perfect? There is room for improvement. It’s time to speak up about these taboos and heavily stigmatised topics and make the world aware of what it is we’re dealing with and experiencing. Doing this will push the boundaries and possibilities of what we innovate, and make sure it meets the real needs of who it is we’re innovating for. A good start, when it comes to periods, is just by starting to use the word period and go from there. Period.